The Day the Earth Stood Still

January 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Suzie's Movies

Yup, it’s a remake of the well known 1951 movie of the same name. (Based on a short story by Harry Bates titled ‘Farewell to the Master”.) 
Just in case you don’t remember it… 

An alien space craft (in this remake a glowing orb) comes to earth with two visitors on board. The first is a massive robot specifically designed to protect the second visitor,  one of  more human- like appearance.  All these aliens want to do  is to travel to earth to warn us that we are ruining our own home,  earth. They attempt  to reason with the leaders of earth and encourage them to rethink their relationship with their own home planet. Things don’t go so well. 

The first mistake the aliens made was to land in the good ‘ol USA where their trip was mistaken for an aggressive attack. Their second  mistake was to land in New York’s Central Park  where the answer to everything – at least in this movie- is to shoot first and ask questions later.  After such an ugly greeting  the aliens decide that humans are too abusive and violent to be allowed to continue screwing up the planet.  Plans are set in motion for the elimination of all humans. And yet, at the last moment …. well, I won’t ruin the movie for you. I won’t ruin the movie for you because it’s already ruined. And it’s a shame because it could have been so good!

This movie started out with some fairly good possibilities, like a decent cast. You got Kathy Bates, Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, and to heighten the cuteness factor there’s  Will Smith’s son, Jaden. For good measure they threw in a few key scenes with John Cleese. John Cleese! Have you ever seen John Cleese in anything that wasn’t good?! And you can’t blame Keanu Reeves weird, detached acting style for any of this movies problems either. Reeves plays one of the aliens and his stilted delivery worked very well in the movie. In fact, Keanu Reeves as an alien is very believable.  Nope, what ruined this film was the amazingly dull, lifeless screen play, horrible dialogue, and the poor to nonexistent respect for the spoken language. It was dull, clunky and sometimes goofy. In fact, in my opinion, I think the real reason the aliens decided to eliminate the humans was not because of their violent tendencies but rather their ridiculous conversations with each other. So now an already preachy movie turns into a a  painful 103 minute endurance trial. Adding insult to injury is  some obvious and shameless product placement for McDonalds, Honda and Windows. I guess you have to pay for the stinky movie somehow. 

Somewhere near the end of the movie Reeves character gives us a clue that the joke is on us. He seriously says, “Mankind can survive, but there will be a terrible price to pay.” Now I realize exactly what that price was.  After surviving a near holocaust, mankind would later  make a movie about it and we, as a nation, would have to sit through it. Lord help us.

Gran Torino

January 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Suzie's Movies

Clint Eastwood comes out with another movie close on the heels of his last venture, The Changeling. Gran Torino is however, a very different sort of movie with a very different feel. It will, no doubt, attract a very different audience as well. Unlike The Changeling which was finely crafted in meticulous detail and marvelous to look at , Grand Torino felt quickly made, almost thrown together. It has the look and feel of a story told in a bar instead of a piece of literature. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this movie, as did the rest of the audience that viewed it. Heck, a bunch of people stood up and applauded during the closing credits. It may even pull in big box office dollars. It just didn’t have that solidly crafted feel that Eastwood’s best films have. (Think, Unforgiven or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil)

Clint Eastwood stars in the movie as Walt Kowalski, a recently widowed Korean war vet that just wants to be left alone in his self imposed misery. He’s grumpy, growly and an irascible, very un-PC raciest. Somehow we still come to love him. (He is, after all, Clint Eastwood.) We follow Walt for a short week while he is thrown full force back into living life. Walt’s Asian neighbor’s son , in a gang initiation, attempts to steal Walt’s prize possession, a pristine, 1972 Ford Gran Torino. (obviously these kids never saw Dirty Harry.) Such an action only inflames Walt’s racist attitudes. The neighboring family opts to handle their son’s disgrace by indenturing him to Walt for a week. During this time Walt learns to appreciate their culture and the unique problems they face as immigrants. While the movie is packed with laugh out loud moments it eventually brings us back to the reality of what it means to live in a ghetto.

Points to Clint Eastwood for his acting and for his decision to cast real Hmong actors in the appropriate roles. Unfortunately many of the actors selected were inexperienced. For many of them, this was their first time on screen. Some key scenes suffered due to their lack of skill and this distracted from the solemnity of the final few scenes. It’s a shame but I think given a little more time and a little coaching, better performances from the supporting actors would have helped polish this movie into an academy contender. As it is it’s still a great flick but will unfortunately be put on the end of the Eastwood shelf next to Bronco Billy and Space Cowboys. Good, fun and clever but not great.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

January 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Suzie's Movies

Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald written in 1921, the Curious Tale of Benjamin Button is a sorrowful tale reflecting societies attitudes on the aged and aging. (Screen writers, Eric Roth and Robin Swicord take quite a few liberties with the original literary work, but by doing so, gives us a more introspective, heartfelt story.)

Benjamin Button (played by Brad Pitt) is born an old man, an infant that is wrinkled and crippled at birth with many of the maladies that usually accost the elderly. As he ages he actually grows into his youth. It’s a simple enough premise, even if it is fanciful and impossible. It’s the way the notion plays out as he lives his life that offers us a glimpse into a society that values character over youth and beauty.

Director David Fincher (Se7en and Fight Club) charms wonderful performances from all of his actors, not only his leads but the entire cast. Pitt’s performance, once again, shows us he is more than just a pretty face. And while no one will ever question the acting chops of the wonderful Cate Blanchett, in this movie her skills are almost overshadowed by her beauty and grace as she portrays the dancer that Benjamin falls in love with. Taraji Henson, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali and Jared Harris weigh in with notable supporting actor contributions.

Excellent performances conveyed with beautiful photography and a script that almost sings results in a sweetly melancholy movie that will no doubt become another classic for Christmastime viewing.


November 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Suzie's Movies

After viewing countless films on a regular basis, cinema fans come to recognize their favorite directors much the way casual movie goers recognize their favorite actors. For me, Clint Eastwood gives us gritty realism, Ron Howard will often show us how even a ‘usual Joe’ can live an exceptional life, Michael Moore will no doubt show us something we would rather not see (or know) and Baz Luhrman… well that usually means I’m coming away from the movie with a headache. Baz Luhrmann gave us “Moulin Rouge” with it’s beautifully color saturated scenes unfortunately edited by what I have often referred to as “a rabid hamster on crack”. He’s a lover of the millisecond edit cut and zips about his movie scenes as if he’s directing on a turbo-charged segway. So it was with reluctance that I sat down in the theater to view Australia. The lure of Hugh Jackman as a cowboy was just too much to resist.

“Australia” takes place in the time frame of World War II. The primary story-line is about a priggish English woman (Nicole Kidman) who comes to Australia to confront her suspected, philandering husband. In her mind, he’s simply not wrapping up business fast enough in arranging the sale of their down under ranch. She travels to the ranch in order to speed up the process only to find, after she arrives, that her husband has been murdered. Finding  herself with an undervalued cattle ranch, 2000 head of cattle and no one to help her drive them to the dock she wonders if coming to this strange, far away land was a mistake.  Enter Hugh Jackman as Drover the driver. Now, to be honest, at this point I got a bit distracted because Hugh Jackman takes his shirt off and all I remember in the way of dialogue was “blah blah blah, NO! NEVER! blah blah blah, Not if you were the last woman on earth! Blah blah blah, something something, Oh look! A kangaroo! Something something ” Then Jackman puts his shirt back on and the movie continues. (Hugh Jackman makes me feel like Homer Simpson eyeing a ham. And no, I have no shame in this regard.)

Our heroine soon finds herself in care of a young, Aboriginal orphan played by new comer Brandon Walters.( Note: Keep an eye out for this kid. He’s a great little actor and has the face of an angel.) She then gets thrown into the position of boss lady of the ranch, and the object of contention with a competing rancher. She withstands numerous trials including a cattle drive through a vast wasteland and  the bombing of Darwin, Australia by the Japanese. It’s a whole lot like “Gone With The Wind” except with Kidman and Jackman in the roles of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable and substitute WWII for the Civil War. And, just like GWTW, Australia is epic in size and nature with multiple conclusions. They could in fact put out a 2H movie, a 2:20 movie or the as seen in theaters today 2:45 movie depending on where they choose to end the film.

So, do I recommend seeing Australia? Sure, why not? Even though it’s not a fantastic movie it’s a good movie to see on the big screen. It is a beautifully filmed, loving tribute Australia that will, no doubt, make its tourism industry explode. And, like I said earlier, it has Hugh Jackman… as a cowboy… he takes his shirt off. Why aren’t you in line for this yet?

Quantum of Solace

November 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Suzie's Movies

Some movies are judged by what we come away with after viewing them. With a Bond film I think most people go in with certain expectations of what they’ll see, what they experience and how they will be left feeling after all is said and done. You expect action, intrigue, some really cool gadgets, some beautiful women and some great cars. That’s the formula. Well, this Bond film has the same formula but it’s been tweaked a bit. Everything is still there but in different quantities making a bit of a different movie. 

In this Bond flick  our boy James is out for revenge; set on evening a score with those responsible for the death of his last love, Vesper. The trail leads him to  Dominic Greene, a corrupt businessman out to seize the natural resources of third world nations under the guise of a sham environmental group. Villain – wise Greene (played by Mathieu Amalric) was a bit on the anemic side. Not near ‘dastardly’ enough.  Not much offered plot-wise either. But what we don’t get in story-line or intrigue we get in action… lots of action. Action action and more action. In fact, there is so much in the way of car chases, fist fights and explosions that there’s little else. It’s like rushing through a buffet line to get to a cheap dessert  and it is somehow not satisfying. We never have a chance to know any of the characters so we really have no motivation to root for anyone (other than Bond). There’s no pleasure in Bond trouncing the bad guys because we never really see how bad the bad guys are until very late in the film. To detract even more from the film, director, Marc Forester, uses the ever-so-popular hand held camera shoots intended to put the viewer in the action and instead just succeeds in irritating the audience. Forester also uses parallel  sequencing in almost every fight scene (showing alternate action scenes of the same time sequence juxtaposed against each other). Once was a good idea; twice means he just ran out of other  artistic ideas. 

Despite these blunders, the movie still has some redeeming aspects. The Bond girls are beautiful, smart and sexy without being trampy. The cars are pretty OK (an Alpha Romero, an Astin Martin and an aged Peugeot) and there’s a great old motorcycle that looks like either a Bultaco or maybe a Sherco. There are no gadgets in this Bond film but there is a fantastic computer screen made even more marvelous because the technology for them is already on the market . Think iPhone with a four foot screen. Very cool. 

All this is not to say I didn’t have fun watching Quantum of Solace. I did. There were plenty of references to other Bond movies as well as a few nods to Alfred Hitchcock to keep you entertained. And for me, Daniel Craig is the best Bond ever. ( And I thought no one could be better than Sean Connery. ) So all the Bond elements are there, just the proportions were a bit off.  Still, after it was all over and I was on my way home, I found myself unwinding my little Toyota full out in every gear while mentally making plans on where I would put my awesome four foot computer table when I got it. (Who am I kidding?!) In the end Quantum of Solace was a pretty good Bond film, just not as tasty as Casino Royale.

The Changeling

November 8, 2008 by  
Filed under Suzie's Movies

Just in time for Halloween… every mother’s nightmare.

Once again Clint Eastwood takes us to another time and another place to experience another person’s agony. He does this so well. Think “Million Dollar Baby” or “Flags of Our Fathers”.

In Changling we experience the heartbreaking story of  Christine Collins as she searches for her abducted son. Taken from a series of true events known as the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, Mr. Eastwood chooses to tell the bizarre and cruel story surrounding the mother of one of the abducted children rather than focusing on the murderer or his actions. Christine’s ordeal is nightmarish enough in its own right.

Having a child taken away from you is in and of itself a tragedy. To compound Christine’s plight, after five long months of unsuccessfully searching for her son, the Los Angles Police Department stumbles upon an orphaned boy and tries to convince Christine it’s her lost son. While Christine struggles to convince the police department that they have returned an impostor, the police decide that it’s easier to paint Christine as a negligent mother that is trying to shirk her maternal responsibilities. To cover up their own ineptitude they have Christine committed to a mental hospital to shut her up and make the inconvenience go away. (Did I mention this was a true story?) Christine refuses to be silenced and with the help of a radio minister (played by John Malkovich) she is not only released from the hospital but assists in uncovering the ramped corruption in the Los Angles Police Department. The mystery of her son’s whereabouts remained.

There is little to find fault with in Changling. Clint Eastwood always manages to get passionate performances out of his actors and this is no exception. I did find Jeffrey Donovan’s awful Irish accent annoying. Lucky for us, sometimes he used it, sometimes it was forgotten altogether. The real brilliance of this movie is found in the details. Hundreds of tiny details that help make the atmosphere of the 1920s come alive. From an old box of cereal to Ms. Jolie’s period piece wardrobe, hardly a single item was overlooked. You are, for the most part, looking a living aspect of the 1920s. I do think that the scope of this incredibly bizarre event in history was so vast that in trying to trim it down to 140 minutes to make it marketable for theaters we are left with a somewhat choppy feeling movie. But I’ll give Mr. Eastwood a pass on that. He came through for many women when he brought to light the fortitude through  pain in one mother’s heart.


October 18, 2008 by  
Filed under Suzie's Movies

What’s it about?- A western set in the 1880s. Appaloosa, a small, fictitious town in New Mexico, finds itself being bullied by a local outlaw and his brutal thugs. The town hires two professional lawmen to come in and restore law and order. While the law men are more than capable for the task at hand, everything is put a kilter with the arrival of a pretty widow. Lines are drawn, guns are fired, people get killed and an age-old friendship is put to the test. It stars Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger, and Jeremy Irons.

Let’s start at the back of the film, the part where the credits roll. In the theater where I viewed this flick, everyone stood up and clapped. I doubt that anyone left feeling ambivalent about the movie they had just seen. I was right there with them clapping madly with a big, stupid grin on my face. What fun!

Ed Harris wrote, directed and stars in this very satisfying western. While I don’t think anyone would consider this movie an epic along the lines of say, Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven”, this movie still has a great deal going for it. The first thing you’ll notice about the film is that it’s good-looking. Harris doesn’t spend a great deal of time lining up artistic shots or interesting camera angles, rather, he lets the beautiful New Mexico scenery speak for itself. You immediately find yourself in the warm, dusty atmosphere of a dessert town. Next is the dialogue. Viggo Mortensen opens the film with an easy going, laid back narritive that sets the scene and the pace for the rest of the movie. I immediately got the feeling I was in for a good story-telling. Harris’ writing was simple and straightforward but entirely engaging. I could on about how well written the screenplay was but even that isn’t the best part of this flick. The story itself is a pretty typical western… good guys versus bad guys, a call to arms against bullies. It does have an interesting note or two but here again, it’s the simplicity and straightforwardness of the story telling itself that makes it so enjoyable. The most exciting aspect of the film for me was the great friendship and chemistry between the characters of Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris. It harkens back on the friendship of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or “The Sting”. They finish each others’ sentences, get each others’ jokes and are about as good as friends as any two people can be. There is nothing that happens in the movie that can’t be explained by saying, “Well, you know, they’re buddies, life long friends.” and that statement alone puts everything into focus. (I realize this may sound a bit obscure but i don’t want to ruin the nature of the movie for anyone.) What a pleasure it was to watch two of my favorite actors work so well in tandem with each other.

I do have to ad one final comment here, (and this is on a personal level… Ladies, I know you’ll be right there with me on this too…) my hands down, absolute favorite thing about this movie… there are no metrosexuals in this movie AT ALL! It’s a western so the whole thing is populated with real men! They’re scruffy, they’re dusty and most of them are sporting a two days growth of beard but by golly there’s no hair gel anywhere and no question how handy they would be around the house. There. I said it. Out loud. (Well, in print anyway.) I love westerns for the cowboys and maybe some of you ladies out there will too. So the next time you want to see a romantic flick with your sweetie, check out what western is playing and buy your guy some cowboy boots. Yippee ki yi yay!

Nights in Rondanthe

October 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Suzie's Movies

What’s it about? –  A successful surgeon botches a usually simple operation that results in the death of his patient. He later visits his patient’s widower in an attempt to offer some closure to the difficult situation. While there he stays at a bed and breakfast where he meets an unhappily married young woman. She’s there to get away and help clear her own head. Along the way he finds other aspects of his life where he feels he must redeem himself. In the process, love grows and flourishes between the characters only to be met with more trials and disappointments.

(Heavy sigh) Did you ever hear people express disappointment in some of their friends or relatives? Those times when they say things like, ” I don’t know what went wrong; he/she had so much going for them! Loving parents, the best schools, a good job , but still…. they held up the bank,  shot up the town, captured and cannibalized a litter a of puppies, and wrote dirty graffiti on the church wall.” Yeah. That’s how I feel about this movie. Puzzled disappointment.

Nights in Rodanthe started out with so much promise. It stars Richard Gere and Diane Lane in the main character roles.  You’d think that would be  plenty of star power to make a movie fly. Next were the writing skills of Ann Peacock and John Romano. John Romano has written for a wide variety of popular television shows. Everything from ALF, Hillstreet Blues, LA Law to Monk.  Next we have one of Kentucky’s own, George C. Wolfe,  as director. He’s from Kentucky so we want him to be good right?  Finally, the story takes place in the outer banks of the Carolinas so somehow it’s got to at least look good. Well it did. It looked beautiful. At that’s almost all it has to offer. What went wrong?

Let’s start with performances. Richard Gere, (Gosh he was sexy in American Gigolo and so cool in Chicago!),absolutely hacked his way through the movie. I never bought into the sincerity of his character and apparently, judging by the assorted “What?”s  and  “Oh yeah right!”s heard throughout the movie from the audience, neither did anybody else. At one point Gere breaks into tears and I found myself thinking, “When did you get this bad?!”

Then there’s Diane Lane. I like her, she’s so sweet and clever. She makes it OK for women to be smart without seeming ‘crafty’. Unfortunately, in this movie, she brings us nothing new. Just the same, overwrought “I Don’t Know How Much More Of This I Can Take” persona.  I never warmed to her or was able to generate any sympathy for her plight. I did find it interesting that Ms. Lane has found some way to convey whining and hand wringing without actually doing or saying anything. Like I said, she’s clever!

All in all, the movie failed because the audience was never really captured  by the characters, the actors’ performances, or the dialogue. There was one bright and shining exception however. Scott Glenn (remember him from  Silverado and Silence of the Lambs ? ) plays the widower of Gere’s patient. Glenn’s performance is beautiful. Even though his screen time and dialogue is limited, Glenn brings to the screen all the heartache and anguish that an elderly widower might suffer. It was here that the audience openly wept.

So, if you must go because your significant other wants to see something romantic, you can at least enjoy Scott Glenn and the scenery of the beautiful outer banks of the Carolina and maybe catch some Zs. Personally, I think a better idea is popcorn at home on the couch watching  The Notebook on DVD again.

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